Microsoft has completed work on its biggest product, Windows Vista, and is releasing it to manufacturing today.
The company also set Jan. 30 as the date the operating system will be available to consumers.
"This is a good day," Jim Allchin, co-president of the division responsible for Windows, said during a conference call with reporters this morning. "Less than an hour ago we officially signed off on Windows Vista. It's rock solid and we're ready to ship."
Release to manufacturing is the point at which the code for Vista is handed over to large-volume customers, as well as third-party software makers and computer manufacturers, who will begin testing it with their hardware and installing it on new machines.
"We'll take the code when we get it and immediately start working through the qualification process," said John Dayan, a marketing and business development vice president with leading computer manufacturer Hewlett-Packard. "Once we get the final bits, we go through and make sure all of our drivers are lined up and we're delivering a high-quality product that's fully integrated with their operating system."
Allchin said Vista, the first new version of the operating system since Windows XP five years ago, will be broadly available on Jan. 30. Microsoft intends to have the final product available for large-volume customers Nov. 30.
The Windows operating system, used on some 93 percent of computers, is often referred to as "the plumbing" that connects software applications such as word processors and media players to communicate with the PC's hard disk drives, monitors, printers and other hardware.
The Windows Client group generated $10.17 billion in operating income during the last fiscal year. That's 61.8 percent of Microsoft's profits.
An exuberant Allchin, who has led Windows development for 16 years and is retiring with the completion of Vista, had a long list of accolades and superlatives for this product.
"We've made some big claims about Windows Vista and I truly believe that we will deliver them," Allchin said, asserting that it's the company's most reliable operating system to date. "It's undergone more testing than any Microsoft operating system we've ever shipped," he said.
Allchin said Vista's performance will not degrade over time — an issue that has drawn complaints with Microsoft's earlier operating systems— thanks to built-in features to add memory and power. The design will also contribute to energy efficiency and quicker start ups and shut downs, he said.
To ensure its security, the company developed new engineering practices to think about potential threats from the beginning. It also used third parties to evaluate potential security risks to the system as part of "the largest penetration and outside testing effort ever done," Allchin said.
Security vulnerabilities that emerged shortly after Windows XP was released spurred Microsoft to build a huge service pack — which some analysts say qualified as a new version on its own — to patch the holes.
Allchin said Vista's security will be one of the most important features enticing people to get the system.
The look and graphics capabilities of Vista are another big selling point for Microsoft. Coupled with new graphics hardware, Vista's visuals are "mind-blowing," Allchin said.
"The gaming experience on Windows Vista is going to go beyond any of the gaming consoles and anything that's been done before," he said.
Businesses, he acknowledged, will be a little slower to start using Vista, because they have to perform compatibility testing with their existing systems.
"We do magical things," he said. "This isn't one that some miracle is going to take place and everyone overnight is going to install in businesses. On the other hand [we've taken steps] to make it much simpler to install with greater benefits to install sooner because of things like security and because of the quality."
Other elements to the overall quality of Vista are out of Microsoft's hands.
It will be up to companies in Microsoft's "ecosystem" — makers of device drivers, such as printers, and third-party software vendors — to ensure that their products are compatible with Vista.
Many have already done so. Allchin said Vista will be compatible with hundreds of applications and tens of thousands of device drivers when it debuts — more than Windows XP or Windows 2000 at their debuts.
The rest of the industry has 10 weeks to fine-tune their products before consumer availability of Vista.
"Now that we've completed our work on the operating system, the rest of the ecosystem is going to kick into high gear and finish off the rest of the compatibility work," Allchin said.
Benjamin J. Romano: 206-464-2149 or email@example.com